The Legal Case: Why Your Kiosk Should be Accessible

Updated 9/21/2021

Why should you consider kiosk accessibility in your kiosk project?  There are many reasons to make your kiosk project accessible. One reason to make a kiosk accessible to serve a larger group of customers and users.  Another reason to work kiosk accessibility into a project is to avoid litigation and costly settlements.

What laws and regulations apply to kiosks?

This discussion focuses on kiosks deployed in the United States. The legal cases and settlements referenced are US based.  Specific legal requirements vary by country.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) addresses kiosks in sections 707 (ATM Machines and Fare Machines),305, 306, 307, 308, 309, and 703. These sections address things like height and reach and provide a requirement for a tactile input device and a screen reader or voice output.  The ADA covers public accommodations, and therefore anything considered public accommodation is included (and what constitutes public accommodation is defined under the ADA).  In addition, Section 508 applies to government funded kiosks. The Section 508 standards are more detailed and provide additional guidance concerning software and kiosk requirements. Additional standards apply depending on the industry, such as Department of Transportation projects covered under the Air Carrier Access Act.  Additional details about the ADA, Section 508, ACAA, and more are found on the TPGi site.

It is important to note that the Department of Justice (DOJ) as made a few significant statements that apply to kiosks. The Department of Justice has filed a “Statement of Interest” regarding a case concerning a retailer’s point of sale system. This Statement provides little guidance for how to make a kiosk accessible, but broadly sets forth the requirement that kiosks must be accessible.

The DOJ provided this guidance. “The absence of specific technical standards or regulatory provisions that directly address a public accommodation’s obligation to provide accessible POS devices in no way establishes that the accessibility of POS devices is outside the scope of Title III, especially where current regulations incorporate specific obligations for effective communication.”  According to DOJ, the ADA covers many things not mentioned by name. “Indeed, there are many instances where the Department has found physical and communication barriers not specifically identified in its regulation or the ADA Standards to be covered under Title III. For example, the Department has long considered websites to be covered by Title III despite the fact that there are no specific technical requirements for websites currently in the regulation or ADA Standards.”

Department of Justice Update: As of September 20, 2021, the Department of Justice issued this clarifying statement, “Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public accommodations provide auxiliary aids and services so that individuals with disabilities can fully and equally enjoy all of their services, including services provided through visual and electronic means on self-service kiosks.” This Statement was filed in the Julian Vargas and American Council of the Blind v. Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories case detailed below.

Court cases and settlements have colored in the rest of the picture.  In almost all cases noted, settlements or court decisions required the kiosk deployer to update their kiosks with tactilely discernable input devices and headphone jacks with audio text to speech output.  Court decisions have come out split based on privacy expectations, merits of specific cases, and some may still be in the appeals process. In any case, the defendant’s legal costs may be ongoing and are not publicly available information.

Below are some of the cases that either directly or peripherally address kiosk accessibility.  Peripheral areas of interest, including POS, Price scanning, Soda dispensing, and Vending machine accessibility, are also included.  Links to news articles, case files, or press releases are provided below each summary as a source for additional information on each case. Of note is the fact that the kiosk deployer is often, but not always, the named defendant in the case. On occasion, the kiosk solution provider is also named (for instance, Redbox and Save Mart). According to the legal cases and settlements below, accessibility often falls on the organization hosting and deploying the kiosk.
More information and resources to find kiosk accessibility guidelines are linked below, as well. Please reach out with additional cases and settlements that should be included.

Cases and Settlements

Redbox and Save Mart  Movie Rental Kiosks

The most prominent kiosk accessibility legal case to date was leveled against Redbox in 2012.

Redbox kiosks, many placed in Save Mart stores, were the subject of a lawsuit alleging that the kiosks were not independently accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.
After two years of negotiation, Disability Rights Advocates and the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, and the Law Offices of Jay Koslofsky entered into a settlement agreement with Redbox Automated Retail, LLC. As a result of the deal, Redbox agreed to modify all of its interactive, touchscreen video-rental kiosks in California by adding nonvisual accessibility features.

Some of the settlement details include:

  • Redbox to develop and install nonvisual user interfaces including headphone jacks, tactile keypads, and text to speech output.
  • The settlement creates a $1.2 million class damages fund to compensate eligible settlement class members who submit valid claims before November 12, 2014.

Additional details:

eatsa, Fast Casual Restaurant Chain

In a 2017 agreement, eatsa, a fast-casual restaurant chain known for a human-free, automated self-service experience, reached a deal with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and others in NY and California to make the self-service restaurant experience accessible to blind customers.  The negotiation took place over six months.  The parties were ACB and members represented by Disability Rights Advocates and blind Californians (represented by Timothy Elder of TRE Legal Practice and Stuart Seaborn) against eatsa.  As part of the settlement, eatsa agreed to incorporate accessible design features into its software and hardware.  The features would allow blind users to use the system independently.

The eatsa kiosk was built using an iPad. Prior to the lawsuit, eatsa had configured its systems so that the screen reader was not usable on the kiosk.  According to the complaint, a screen reader, a tactile keypad with braille, and a headphone jack were recommended.

Additional details:

Walmart Self-Serve Checkout Kiosks

In 2018, blind Marylanders and the National Federation of the Blind sued Walmart over their self-service checkouts.  The lawsuit alleged that the checkouts were not fully accessible to blind users. The suit claimed that an employee attempted to take money from one of the plaintiffs during the checkout process.  The employee allegedly took cash back from the customer’s account as they assisted in checking out. The plaintiffs in this case were represented by Eve Hill, Jessica Weber, and Chelsea Crawford of Brown Goldstein & Levy, LLP.  This case has not yet settled, nor has a decision come down from the court at the time of publication.

Additional details:

Coinstar Coin Exchange Kiosks

A lawsuit filed in 2016 by plaintiff Brett Boyer states that Coinstar coin exchange machines fail to provide equal access to users who are blind or who have low vision.  According to the suit, customers must interact with the touch screen to choose to donate coins to charitable causes, select a cash option, and/or print a voucher or an eGift card.

According to the lawsuit, the machines offer no adaptive features for users who are blind or who have low vision, and a user is required to get help from a third party to use the machine.  A settlement was proposed for this suit in which Coinstar would complete modification of one kiosk at each of its retail locations.

Modifications to the kiosk would include ensuring a functional and tactile keypad exists on each modified kiosk, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and text to speech output via audio through the headphone jack.

Additional details:

Stores with Health Screening kiosks

In 2020, Carlson Lynch, ADA plaintiffs’ firm, filed multiple lawsuits against stores that have health screening kiosks. The cases targeted kiosks that are self-service and provide users the opportunity to measure blood pressure, weight, pulse, and BMI.  The kiosks, largely inaccessible to blind and low vision patrons, typically required the use of a touchscreen.  They lacked a keypad or tactilely discernible input device and may not have speech output for receiving information critical to the kiosk’s purpose and functionality. The absence of headphones was considered problematic as the information being audibly communicated would be available to others around the kiosk and potentially violate patient privacy and HIPAA concerns.

This lawsuit targeted not the manufacturer of the health screening kiosks, but the stores hosting those kiosks.  Every grocery store, pharmacy, and retailer operating a health kiosk may end up being a defendant in this or a similar future case.

Additional details:

Applebee’s and kiosk maker E la Carte, Inc. Tabletop Kiosks

No lawsuit was filed, but in January of 2018, Applebee’s restaurants and E la Carte tabletop kiosk maker agreed on a collaboration to make the tabletop ordering and payment kiosk accessible to users who are blind. This agreement, between E la Carte, Applebee’s Grill and Bar, National Federation of the Blind and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco, resulted from a structured negotiation and was written into a settlement agreement.

The agreement included producing text to speech capabilities for the tablets and enabling gestures to allow blind patrons to interact with the device.  E la carte also agreed to add an audio jack and a Braille tactile label next to the jack.

Attorneys at Disability Rights Advocates, Brown Goldstein & Levy LLP, and TRE Legal Practice were involved in this agreement.
Additional details:

Coca Cola Dispensing and Vending Machine

In a 2015 case against the Moe’s restaurant chain, plaintiffs brought a class action suit concerning the Coca-Cola “Freestyle” machines’ touchscreen interface.  Additional suits were filed against Walgreens and Five Guys for their inaccessible drink dispensers. The court recognized that the ADA requires “effective communication with customers, including providing auxiliary aids and services.” The court also found that effective assistance from Moe’s employees was sufficient in this case.  This case is the only - one to date - in which the courts found that employee assistance was an acceptable alternative. In this situation, the machine was not defined as a kiosk, nor was it necessary for the customer to enter private information or conduct a transaction with the machine.

Additional details:

In addition to the Freestyle Coca-Cola dispensing machines, Coca-Cola refreshment vending machines have been subject to legal action.  The case, Magee, Emmett v. Coca-Cola refreshments was filed in 2015.  In the complaint, the vending machine is said to be inaccessible for those who have low vision.  The machine, the Glass Front Vendor (GFV) was encountered at a bus station, and the Plaintiff was unable to use the machine without assistance. A GFV kiosk deployed in a hospital was referenced as a similarly inaccessible device.

The defense team argued that the GFV machines, themselves, are not places of public accommodation and therefore were not subject to the ADA. The case was initially dismissed because the Plaintiff sued Coca-Cola, not the property owner (the train station). An appeal was filed, and there was a split among the federal circuits.  In 2017, the administration (US Acting Solicitor General, Noel J Francisco) indicated that Title III of the ADA applies only to physical spaces that people can enter.  The Supreme Court rejected the appeal in the fall of 2017.
Additional details:

Panera iPad Touchscreen Kiosks

In a 2016 case against Panera, Plaintiffs Gomez and Gill alleged that the iPad touchscreen ordering kiosks are not accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. The class action lawsuit alleged that the iPad kiosk system was located in places of public accommodation.  The case was settled quickly.

Pursuant Health, Health Care Kiosks

Pursuant Health’s kiosks capture and conduct biometric health screenings, vision assessments, blood pressure screenings, weight assessments, BMI assessments, and more.  The kiosks would also display health risks and make recommendations, and the kiosks would subsequently email that information to the consumer. According to documentation, these kiosks were not usable by people who are blind or who have low vision. In 2016, an agreement was reached between Pursuant Health and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and NFB.  As a result of the deal, Pursuant Health agreed to make payments totaling $95,000 to the AG’s Office and the NFB. Pursuant Health also agreed to make the kiosks and website accessible to consumers who are blind or have low vision. The kiosks will also be reformatted to provide audio instructions.

Additional details:

LinkNYC Public Communication Network Accessibility

A 2016 lawsuit brought by the NFB and several blind NYC residents resulted in an agreement wherein the LinkNYC kiosks (CityBridge, LLC) would improve the accessibility of screen navigation, dedicate shortcut keys to request assistance, and update a screen reader and text to speech engine. The hundreds of LinkNYC kiosks deployed in NYC’s five boroughs were to be expanded into the thousands, and it was critical that access for the blind be built into the kiosks before the service was expanded. Additional terms included an agreement to add policies to ensure accessibility of all LinkNYC features, annual accessibility training for CityBridge employees, and the appointment of an accessibility coordinator.

DRA and Brown, Goldstein & Levy of MD represented the plaintiffs.

Additional details:

University of Montana

In a broader accessibility complaint against the University of Montana, kiosks were defined as included in EIT – (electronic and information technology). As a result of the agreement, the University of Montana committed to the accessibility of EIT. Penn State was subject to a similar agreement as part of a similar complaint.

Additional details:

Airline kiosk accessibility

In 2011, a case against JetBlue Airways determined that airline websites and kiosks were not subject to anti-discrimination law but were instead under the Department of Transportation domain (DOT).  As such, DOT wrote the ACAA (Air Carrier Access Act) and granted a grace period for implementation to become compliant with the demands and standards outlined in the ACAA (and existing kiosks were not subject to the rule).  Only 25% of kiosks needed to be accessible within that time.

In 2017, US DOT settled with Alaska Airlines, Virginia America, and Spirit Airlines to expand accessible airport kiosks.  Under the agreement, Spirit Airlines agreed to make at least 50 percent of its kiosks accessible by December 31,2017.  Alaska Airlines/Virgin America agreed that at least 50 percent of their kiosks at US airports would be accessible by December 31, 2019.

Additional details:

Price reader kiosks

A consumer sued Target in 2016, claiming that the price reader kiosks did not support low vision users.  The price reader kiosks in a Miami Target store were said to be inaccessible. Price verification scanners may (depending on the state) have separate laws and may therefore be subject to different requirements for accessibility.  A similar case in 2015 against Sears, about price scanners, resulted in a settlement.

Additional details:

Point of Sale Terminals

Point of Sale terminals have been the subject of multiple lawsuits and resulting settlements, including against; Walmart, Target, Trader Joes, Lucky Brands, Safeway, Rite Aid, Raley’s, RadioShack, Dollar General, CVS, Best Buy, and 7-Eleven. In these cases, structured negotiations were effective and the offending parties agreed to install tactile POS devices at all locations. Any new POS devices have tactile keypads for use by people who are blind.

Additional details:

Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories Self Service Kiosks

In this case, filed in the Central District of California, Plaintiffs allege that Quest (defendants) require patients to use a kiosk to check in, enter personal information, and other tasks. Because the kiosks are not usable by people who are blind or have low vision, patients with impairments must ask strangers for assistance or bring companions.  The Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest (on September 20, 2021), to clarify that Title III of the ADA requires that public accommodations provide auxiliary aids and services so that individuals with disabilities can enjoy all of their services, including those services offered through a self-service kiosk.

Note: “Auxiliary aids” would include software such as a screen reader.

Other related kiosk accessibility articles:

Tips, guides, and details for building an accessible kiosk:

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